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Composition and Deployment

Cambodia was divided geographically into four KPRAF military regions (see fig. 15). These regions originally bore numbers assigned by the Vietnamese to conform to the system used by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN--see Appendix B). In the mid-1980s they were renumbered to present, at least, the illusion, of their autonomy from the Vietnamese armed forces. Little was known conclusively about the functions of the military regions, especially about the operational control exercised by their headquarters over KPRAF tactical units and missions. It was possible that their responsibilities were restricted to administrative tasks, such as conscription, training, economic production, and coordination with Vietnamese military units and advisers.

Below the level of military region headquarters, the KPRAF was composed of three types of units: main or regular forces, provincial or regional forces, and village militia or local forces. Official strength figures were lacking in 1987, but the main and provincial forces together may have numbered more than 40,000 troops. It was the intention of the KPRAF's Vietnamese mentors to build a reliable Khmer force of between 30,000 and 50,000 personnel, presumably by about 1990, by which date Vietnamese units were to be withdrawn.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, KPRAF regular or main force units consisted of seven understrength infantry divisions, several independent infantry brigades and regiments, as many as four tank battalions, and combat support formations, such as engineer battalions. The forerunners of all these units were several Khmer battalions raised by Hanoi in 1978 as it prepared for the invasion of Cambodia. In approximately 1980, the battalions were reorganized into four brigades, each one posted to one of the four Cambodian provinces of Batdambang, Siemreab-Otdar Meanchey, Kampong Spoe, and Kampong Cham. In these areas, the brigades performed static defense tasks, and they occasionally participated with Vietnamese forces in joint operations against the insurgents. As conscription and voluntary enlistments brought more personnel into the KPRAF, the four brigades were upgraded to infantry divisions, and two additional divisions were founded. In spite of such apparent progress in force development, however, all units remained chronically understrength, according to Western observers. In the mid-to-late-1980s, KPRAF authorities deployed much of their main force strength semipermanently in western Cambodia, and division headquarters were reported to have been established in Batdambang City, in Treng, and in Sisophon in Batdambang Province. There was little agreement among observers on unit designations or on the movements of main force units below division level within Cambodia, or on the extent to which such Khmer units were able to operate independently of Vietnamese forces.

Equipment for the main force units was furnished by Vietnam and by the Soviet Union. Armaments consisted of small arms of Soviet origin, including the AKM (updated version of the AK-47) assault rifle and various crew-served weapons, including towed medium howitzers, and air-defense weapons in several calibers. Tanks in the KPRAF armored battalions included the T-54/55, an old, but capable, main battle tank of Soviet origin; the obsolescent PT-76 light amphibious tank; and the Type-59, an older Chinese main battle tank, probably handed down from Vietnamese stocks. Armored fighting vehicles in the main force inventory consisted of the Soviet BTR series of wheeled vehicles, and some aging American equipment--such as V-100 armored cars and M-113 armored personnel carriers--either bequeathed by Vietnam or left behind from the days of the Khmer Republic (see table 16, Appendix A).

The provincial/regional forces were second echelon troops, ranked below main force regulars in capability, in sustainability, and in equipment. The forerunners of the provincial forces were Khmer units that were raised hastily in 1979. They were composed of defectors or refugees who were pressed into service by the Vietnamese in their invasion of Cambodia. The units numbered perhaps 100 personnel each, and they were allocated, one per province, to accompany officials of the newly proclaimed government in Phnom Penh as they filled the places left vacant by the Khmer Rouge and set up provincial administrations. To extend the government presence to the districts, some provincial units were broken down into platoons or squads and were dispatched to accompany newly appointed district officials. At this time, the provincial forces were merely adjuncts of the Vietnamese occupation forces; they were untrained, and they had few capabilities beyond those needed to provide rudimentary passive defense to their provincial or district administrations.

In 1987 little authoritative information was available on the deployment and the total strength of the Cambodian provincial forces. If the KPRAF followed the examples of its Vietnamese and Laotian counterparts, however, troops for provincial units were raised from among local residents and were deployed exclusively in their home provinces. Such practices may have given these forces an edge, in recruitment and in morale, over their main force counterparts because village youths generally preferred to serve their military obligation closer to home. In a counterinsurgency like the one in Cambodia, provincial forces also could have had an advantage because of their greater knowledge of the area of operations and of local conditions, both friendly and hostile.

An early goal of the government in Phnom Penh was to raise two battalions of provincial forces per province. Given the manpower limitations of the nation, a more realistic goal would have been a single battalion per province. In 1987 Western analysts believed that the latter goal had been achieved and had even been exceeded in some provinces on the Thai border, where the insurgent threat was greatest. It continued to be impossible to gauge the overall strength of the provincial forces with any accuracy, but based on an estimate of 1 battalion per province in general, with 2 to 4 battalions per border province, a figure of 10,000 personnel may have been realistic.

The connections among the provincial forces and the Ministry of National Defense and the KPRAF General Staff were unclear. At subordinate echelons, however, provincial units were responsible to a local military committee. This committee was composed of the chairman, the military commander and his deputy, and a small staff headed by a chief of staff. The military committee reported to the provincial committee of the mass organization of the KPRP, the Kampuchean (or Khmer) United Front for National Construction and Defense (KUFNCD--see Appendix B). The KUFNCD coordinated military affairs with the corresponding party and government committees at each organizational level. It was assumed, although unproved, that the provincial forces, irrespective of intervening committees, kept in close touch with KPRAF main force units and headquarters, and with Vietnamese military garrisons in the vicinity.

The provincial forces had two missions, military and political. In the performance of the former, some Western analysts hypothesized that the provincial units at last might have broken their dependency on their Vietnamese military mentors and have learned to operate by themselves. This premise might hold true if the provincial forces were deployed only in their home provinces, as suspected, and if the insurgents continued to be unable to mass large units. In the performance of their political mission, the provincial forces were expected by the government to play an important role because they were closer to the people than were the regular forces. This role included both propaganda work and psychological warfare. Propaganda work involved building the loyalty of provincial residents both to government and to party as well as indoctrination in KPRP orthodoxy and in Marxist-Leninist ideology. Psychological warfare involved measures taken against the enemy, such as inducements to defect, arousal of hatred against them, and neutralization of their propaganda appeals.

The third echelon in the KPRAF consisted of the village militia, or local forces. This armed force originated in the 1979 to 1980 period, when directives by the party and the newly proclaimed government mandated the raising of a militia in each village and subdistrict. This objective coincided with the desire of the Vietnamese military authorities to create small local force units in the rural communities along the Thai-Cambodian border, thereby transforming these frontier settlements into combat hamlets that would help to keep the insurgents at bay. According to instructions relayed to village authorities, former officials and soldiers of the defunct Democratic Kampuchea regime were to be excluded from the militia, and preference was to be given to recruiting former Khmer Rouge victims. This recruitment policy initially was quite successful, as there was no dearth of Cambodians who had either grievances against the previous regime or the simple desire to protect their homes and their villages from attack by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. In some localities, former soldiers of the Khmer Republic who had escaped the purges of Democratic Kampuchea were able to dominate the militia. In others, local peasants without political antecedents were in the majority. Villages were able eventually to raise militia forces of ten to twenty personnel each, while subdistricts mustered fifteen to thirty personnel. In virtually all cases, militia members were ill- trained and ill-equipped, possessing only Soviet small arms from Vietnam, or hand-me-down United States weapons provided years before to the Khmer Republic.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, party and military authorities were attempting to consolidate the militia. Indirect evidence suggested that, among the Cambodian citizenry, enthusiasm for joining the local forces had waned considerably since the early years of the decade. Militia units were formed throughout the country, nevertheless, even in the hamlets, in the individual factories, and in the solidarity groups working in the rice fields, in some cases. Some units had offensive missions to search out guerrilla bands in their localities and to destroy them, or at least to report their movement to higher military authorities. On the Thai border, the militia participated in Project K-5. The militia also had the duties of patrolling and protecting this barrier. Away from the frontier, however, the local forces generally were oriented defensively and, according to official Cambodian sources, were "entrusted with the duty of defending production, communication lines, production sites, rubber plantations, fishing grounds, forest exploitation areas, and so on." In all of their duties, the militia units reported to local party and government committees, which in turn were responsible for the recruitment, indoctrination, and training of militia members. Some financial support from the central government, however, may have been available to local authorities to raise militia units within their jurisdictions. In addition to their military and security duties, militia members were expected to participate in economically productive activities and to make their units as self-sufficient as possible.

Aside from the three levels of the KPRAF that were essentially ground forces, the military establishment included a small riverine and coastal navy. This latter force consisted of one battalion, of undisclosed strength, which had the mission of patrolling the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and the Tonle Sab--a river emanating from the Tonle Sap--between the lake and Phnom Penh. To accomplish its mission, the riverine navy was equipped with at least three patrol craft, each armed with turret-mounted 75mm guns and with twin open- mounted 20mm guns. The force possessed at least one landing craft with a modest lift capability of about one platoon at a time. The commander of the riverine navy served concurrently on the KPRAF General Staff, where he may have performed the functions of a naval chief of staff.

An embryonic air defense corps or air force was being reconstituted in the mid-to-late 1980s, after having been defunct since the days of the Khmer Republic. Cambodian pilots and technicians were in training in the Soviet Union; some already had returned home. Thai sources reported that about forty MiG- 21/FISHBED fighter aircraft were either on order or already in the inventory. The delivery or order of Mi-8/HIP transport helicopters was also reported, but not verified, as of late 1987.

Data as of December 1987

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Cambodia Table of Contents